Hard work with a touch of humor

January 10, 2013

Tess Duenas guides a pre-operative unit that cherishes teamwork and knows how to reassure even the most anxious patients.


Tess Duenas and the pre-operative unit
Tess Duenas and the pre-operative unit
If it weren’t for a grateful uncle, Tessana Subang- Duenas, RN, very likely would have become a missionary. She grew up in the Philippines as the daughter of a minister and a teacher and expected to follow in their footsteps. But in high school she helped care for an uncle who had surgery. “After I took care of my uncle, he planted a seed,” says Duenas, who goes by Tess. “He told me that I would make a good nurse.”

Duenas went on to graduate from Central Philippine University, the first nursing school in the country founded by American missionaries. “A few years ago I told my uncle how thankful I was that he told me I would be a good nurse; he was very happy,” she recalls.

The idea that was planted in a thoughtful teenager has since grown into 28 years of service as a registered nurse, 23 of those spent at Saint John’s Health Center. Duenas worked for 17 years as the nurse in charge of the oncology unit, followed by six years as the nurse in charge of the preoperative unit – the job she holds today.

She helps lead a team of about two dozen, a group she describes as professional, intelligent, compassionate, fun and focused on “great cooperation and teamwork in giving quality care. They’re very smart, intuitive and empathetic.”

Duenas and the Saint John’s Health Center pre-op team share a simple philosophy about nursing care. “To me, it’s the sincerity, it’s the love and compassion for each individual who comes through the door that’s important,” she explains. “Rich, poor, middle-class – doesn’t matter. To me, everyone should be treated the same, and I try to be a role model for that.”

When she began her position in the pre-op unit, some team members thought she was strict, Duenas recalls. Now, though, Duenas says the new protocols and efficiency measures she and her team have implemented mean she can relax more and enjoy the camaraderie.

“Of course we work hard, but we do it with humor and laughter; and we try to impart that camaraderie not only to patients but with each other, the doctors and the hospital as a whole.”

Duenas says she’s impressed every day by the high quality of surgical care that patients at the Health Center receive.

“We have a lot of cardiac cases and ortho cases like hip, knee and spine surgery – our hospital is really great at that,” she notes. “We have a lot of patients from all around the country and sometimes out of the country because of the expertise that our doctors offer. We prepare the patients for surgery, making sure that they are safe.”

The pre-op unit earns plenty of accolades. Recently, the team’s careful review of a patient’s full medical records revealed a resuscitation order in the event the patient went into cardiac arrest. In reality, the patient and his wife wanted only palliative end-of-life care. The nurses “taught me to always address this issue every time he gets admitted,” the patient’s wife recalled. “No one had ever taught me that.”

Another patient related that her doctor admitted her to Saint John’s Health Center in part because of the great nursing care. “The nurses are good at what they do and it shows; they keep me feeling reassured, calm and confident that I am in good hands,” she explains.

Duenas is a big fan of the technological advances that make nursing more efficient, less labor-intensive and safer. “They call me a techno-geek here at work,” laughs Duenas, who remembers well how lifechanging intravenous pumps were for nurses back in the early 1980s. She’s especially excited to see electronic medical records fully implemented too. “I would love to have everyone on the same page when we go electronic. That will make our nursing care safer and more streamlined for the patient.”

Ultimately, though, Duenas’ aim is to help lead a team that embodies that same spirit of service that she witnessed among the missionaries in her youth and continues to observe in her fellow nurses and other Health Center caregivers.

“It’s that emphasis on quality of care with respect, compassion and love. I see it every day embodied in our team, in how we take good care of our patients,” she says. “We’re growing and learning, being taught something new every day from a doctor, patient or a co-worker. Our care is always evolving, and we’re only getting better.”